Saturday, May 04, 2013

If Its "Darby," Why do they Spell it with an "E"?

"Oh, you lived in Kentucky.!  Did you ever go to the Derby?"

People actually do ask me that from time to time.  Or did, until they figured out I had nothing interesting ready by way of reply.  They'd make a deal out of pronouncing it "Darby," I never knew exactly why.

But this was only one among many lacunae in my knowledge of Darbyhood,  for the fact is  I never did attend a Darby, not even though I was, after all, a newspaper reporter, and I pulled the Saturday shift on Darby for several years.  

I do recall that in my very first year they sent me out to cover the "early morning revellers," so we could have something for the first edition which closed  before the race was run.  They were  big on early morning revellers, my guys.  

Anyway they sent me out in the company of another newbie, one John Macaulay Smith, a truly lovely human being with a kind of fey, behind-the-fan manner that made you never quite sure whether or not he was joking.  Which was a good posture to maintain when one discovered, as we quickly did, that neither of us had ever been to a Darby  before, nor even a horse race; that indeed, either one of us would have a had a tough time telling which end was which on the horse.

Perplexed by our own ignorance we somehow got the idea of ringing up city desk for advice--where, happily, we fell under the tutelage of one Frank Hartley, a model of dour worldliness right out of central casting.

"Okay," I responded to Frank and recradled the phone.  "He says first we find the paddock.  Now, what's a paddock?"

John offered what I suppose was his version of a shrug.  Neither of us had the slightest idea.

And that's really the end of my Darby raconteurship  I except I remember spending the rest of I don't know wandering about aimless while John uttered phrases like "Paddocks will please curry past the cantor" and such like, and I wondered what I would do if somebody actually chose to follow his instructions.
So any way you tell it, we were less purposeful than our colleague Barbara Carlson.  Barbara drew the gig to go find those early morning revellers who had strayed into the downtown streets.  Apparently our editors had led a sheltered life, or any rate, perhaps remembered an earlier generation.  For to hear Barbara tell it, by her time on the street, there was nary a reveller to be found.  Indeed, you could have fired a cannon clean down Fourth Street to the river and done no more than perhaps startle the reporter who had been sent out to find them.

But this did not dismay Barbara who rose to the occasion by phoning in some of the finest examples of winsome homespun I had ever heard.   Something about Charlie Rainwater, the Indian who was afraid he had wandered too far from home and so brought a supply of his own jerky.  These days, that kind of thing would get you fired and publicly denounced in a front-page apology from the the Ombudsman ("diligent inquiry has failed to uncover a Charlie Rainwater nor indeed any other Rainwater of any race or ethnic provenance, nor even so much as a slice of homemade beef jerky.")  Ah, those were the days.


Peter Hochstein said...

I once went up to East Harlem in the middle of the night to cover what was thought to be a gang war, only to discover it was merely a revenge killing by a local thug, who spitefully offed a couple of brothers of a girl who had spurned him.

I dutifully phoned it in and return to the city room of the New York Post, only to discover the first edition coming off the press with a front page headline that said something like: EAST HARLEM GANG WAR! TWO DEAD.

I furiously approached the rewrite man, to whom I had phoned the facts, which he had twisted like a scientist bending negative data to result in the outcome he wanted.

"I told you it wasn't a gang war!" I yelled.

The rewrite man, one Al Aronowitz, calmly picked up the first edition of the paper, studied the front page headline and then said, "What do you mean it wasn't a gang war? It says right here in the paper it was a gang war."

"Piping a story" (the term stems from dreams derived from an opium pipe) was considered SOP on some papers in those days.

This true tale and more can be found in my e-book, 'HEIRESS STRANGLED IN MOLTEN CHOCOLATE AT NAZI SEX ORGY! A MEMOIR"

Ken Houghton said...

I was in a restaurant a few years ago with several people. A rather prominent sports broadcaster was at the bar.

He also had a broadcaster's voice, so while we were enjoying bottles of Oregon Pinot Noir, he was asked if he would ever cover The Masters.

He answered honestly, "I don't enjoy golf, so I let the people who want to be there cover it."

Apparently, this theory hadn't made it to Louisville by the mid-1970s.

Buce said...

Heh. Sixties. And for $110 a week I did what they told me.

Buce said...

Heh. Sixties. And for $110 a week I did what they told me.